Sitting on the toilet yesterday, at seven months pregnant, I thought, “Wow, no one told me that it was going to be painful to poop for so long.”
Sitting on the toilet yesterday, at seven months pregnant, I thought, “Wow, no one told me that it was going to be painful to poop for so long.” It’s been 22 months now, since the birth of my first son. And with another baby on the way, the pain has only been increasing. This is the result of childbirth on the intestines.
People tend to share their stories about the happiness and the agony of childbearing, but the reality is that there is an incredibly long list of things that no one tells you about. So I’ve polled a contingency of new mamas, asking them what they learned through the process of carrying and having children that they wish someone would have shared ahead of time. Here are the most common responses:
1 The blood. Whoa, the blood. A lot of us thought we would bleed briefly right as we had the baby, and then it would taper off. No, my friends. No. Many new mamas bleed up to six weeks, and have the joy of wearing giant mesh diapers to handle the mess. Tampons aren’t allowed because of the potential introduction of bacteria into an already compromised system, but even if they were, you wouldn’t want them because the lingering pain of birth does not make you want to put anything anywhere near your vagina.
2 The isolation. Having a newborn baby come into your life is an upheaval, and can feel terribly lonely. It’s a challenge to learn how best to care for your baby, and it feels like you’re floundering at every turn. Add to that the havoc happening to your hormones, and the world can feel very much like a scary vacuum from which you can never escape. It does get better, but the first few weeks (even months) can feel especially lonely. Which leads me more broadly to the next issue …
3 Postpartum depression. Most estimates suggest that somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of women experience PPD. But it’s likely that those estimates are low because they only reflect the number of women who have reported issues with depression following the birth of a child. PPD continues to carry a negative stigma, making it more difficult for women to deal with it. When my son was born, I didn’t immediately get that rush of love everyone told me I would have. In the following months I fell so in love with him, but continued to wonder why I couldn’t be happy. I have a really wonderful life, I kept thinking. A great husband, an awesome child. Why wasn’t that enough? It took me 18 months before I mentioned it to a doctor, and then it was because I had become afraid of the destructive nature of my thoughts. It can be incredibly startling, especially to women who haven’t experienced depression in other forms. And it can be difficult to pinpoint as PPD; a lot of us feel like we just need to work harder at being stronger. It’s difficult to admit that help may be necessary.
4 The nursing circus. Perhaps naively, it never once occurred to me that nursing might not come naturally. The first time my son latched on, he drew blood immediately from the sheer force of his nursing. I bled for weeks. That led into a four-month stretch of thrush (a yeast infection in the breasts). Some new mamas deal with supply issues (too little or too much milk). Some new mamas have babies who don’t know how to latch on, so they end up feeding their babies drop by drop through a variety of other methods. Some new mamas go back to work and have to pump (much more demanding than anyone could possibly imagine). Some new mamas have babies with allergies, so they have to cut out every food they eat, one at a time, with the hopes of helping their new babies’ little tummies feel better. Some mamas have poor let-down, while others wake up in pools of always-dripping breast milk. Nipples crack. Ducts clog. It’s worth it, and it’s rewarding in the end, but it’s no picnic.
5 Hemorrhoids. Yes, you heard me. Carrying babies and giving birth put immense pressure on your veins below your uterus. A common side effect is hemorrhoids. If you’ve never had them before, this can be pretty startling. When I gave birth to my son, the nurse told me that I was going to feel the worst healing pains in my butt. You may also get a tear that goes from your vagina all the way to your anus. Your rear end may not feel quite right for a good long time, and as it turns out, that’s completely normal. One of the biggest surprises a lot of new mamas face is the fear of pooping. It can feel like it’s about to tear your body in half, and that is a scary feeling. I cried the first time I pooped after labor, and I know I’m not the only one!
Hemorrhoids. Yes, you heard me.
6 The relationship challenges. Most of us know that a new baby will add stress to our relationships with our partners. What we don’t understand is how. I thought my husband and I would have spats over sleep-training, or what school options were best, but the reality is that the strain has been much more intangible. Becoming a parent forces you to become a different person. I think most of us would agree that we have become better people, but we are unquestionably different. And the differences can feel alienating. For me, it didn’t end up being issues over which diaper to choose or how to comfort a newborn; the stress on our relationship has come from losing independence, feeling ever-tired, and the incommunicable loneliness of long nights awake with a crying baby.
7 The division of responsibility. Even with the best dad in the world, the over-the-top-amazing partner, it still feels like most of the parenting work is on Mama. For the first thirteen months my son didn’t sleep through the night. And you know what he wanted when he wasn’t sleeping? To nurse. Most often it’s the mom who wakes up to every change in the baby’s breathing, every slight whimper or tiny rustle. It’s in our wiring. And, frankly, a lot of a newborn’s needs are most easily answered by the mama. But when you still need to keep up the housecleaning or the cooking or the laundry or the energy your relationship demands, it can feel incredibly exhausting. And the exhaustion can feel unfair.
8 The amazing feeling of entering the Mama Tribe. Mamahood is unquestionably a tribe. If you surround yourself with mamas, there is an amazing network of support. Suddenly you have something in common, and it’s wonderful. You make eye contact with other mamas and knowingly smile. You now have an incredible tolerance for screaming babies on planes. You want to hug the mama who is struggling through a public breastfeeding moment. Mamahood makes you both vulnerable and newly confident. It fills you with both love and fear. And all of the mamas before you, all of the mamas around you- they know these feelings, too.
9 The sex (or lack thereof). For a while sex just hurts. Maybe not for everyone, but a baby entering the world through your vagina leaves things unpleasantly wrecked for a while. Add to that the utter exhaustion, the wonky hormones, and the general desire to never have anyone ever touch you ever again in any possible way, and you may find yourself asking your OB, “Um, sex drive?” like I did. To which he will reply that it may return once you’re done nursing, but it also may never be what it once was. So you have to figure out other ways to let your partner know that you do indeed love them to pieces, but that your body is giving a very clear “hell, no” to the sex idea. Part of it is natural child spacing. You’re not terrible. An open dialogue with your partner is incredibly helpful.
10 The love. Holy shit, the love. People do tell you about this, but you simply can’t understand it until you feel it. It’s incredible to watch your child grow. To “learn” them as they develop. To find energy, despite your exhaustion, to continue to be patient, to be a safe harbor. It makes you a better person. A person who is absolutely the best expert on your child. A person who can suddenly reach goals you never could before. There’s nothing better, or finer, or more perfect in the world than that love.